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May 15, 2007

Turning Press Releases Into News

Monday is the typical day for reporters to unload non-perishable crap stories so they don’t have to work over the weekend. But it appears that the New York Times has decided to extend that practice to Tuesday, perhaps because of those Monday blues. For the third time in four years, an education reporter has taken spoon-fed, ridiculous PR from the ACT and tried to pass it off as news.

This time, Times reporter Karen Arenson tells us that only one quarter of kids who take a full set of English, math, and science classes are ready for college. What she fails to mention is that this "data" is part of a contrived, questionable system for extrapolating standardized test scores to future grades.

Here's what Gelf wrote two years ago, when the Times wrote pretty much the exact same article:

Despite its best efforts to appear on the cusp of some national trend, the prevailing message of [Tamar] Lewin's article is that there is a correlation between ACT scores and college grades, which is exactly what the ACT wants you to think. For his part, [Media-relations director Ken] Gullette admits there are other factors that may correlate better with college performance (like high-school grades), but stands by the benchmarks. "For whatever reason," Gullette tells Gelf, "the College Readiness Benchmarks are what reporters pick up on. They were big last year, and they're big again this year."

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